Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Muslim refugees and new immigrants helping fuel new mosque growth

A mosque in Fremont, California, January 2009
A mosque in Fremont, California, January 2009
Photo by Steve Rhodes/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Immigration is one of the factors driving the growth in the number of U.S. mosques, according to a new report that tracks a 74 percent jump in the number of mosques over the last decade. So are different patterns of settlement, as the suburbs draw more Muslim families away from urban centers.

Titled "The American Mosque 2011," the report is part of a University of Kentucky-led study. It cites several reasons for why the number of Islamic houses of worship in the country has gone from 1,209 mosques in 2000 to 2,106 last year. A few of these factors, from the report:

  • The increased number of Muslim refugees and new immigrant groups has led them to establish their own mosques where they can feel more comfortable in their own language and cultural environment. The new groups that are starting their own mosques are Somalis, Iraqis, West Africans and Bosnians.

  • The expansion of the Muslim population into new areas of a city, suburb or town has motivated Muslims to found mosques in these new areas where no mosques exist. In other words, Muslims get tired of driving an hour to the closest mosque and they decide to found a mosque closer to where they live.

  • Being a richly diverse community, the ethnic and religious divisions within the Muslim community has led Muslims to leave a mosque in order to establish their own mosque which better reflect their vision and understanding of Islam.

Part of the increase could be due to better accounting, explained by a greater ability to identify mosques in the U.S. now due through websites and other factors. Still, the report reads, "the fact remains that new mosques are springing up throughout America."

The report goes on:

The US Muslim community is arguably the most diverse religious community in America. The main groups that comprise the American Muslim community are South Asians (Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis, and Afghanis), Arab (prominent groups include Egyptians, Palestinians, Lebanese, Yemenis; 22 Arab countries are represented), and African Americans. Many of the South Asians and Arab mosque- goers have been arriving in America since the 1960s and 1970s, and their second- generation children are now taking prominent roles in the US Muslim community.

African Americans have been converting to Islam in relatively large numbers since the 1960s and 1970s, and now their second-generation Muslim children are now in adulthood. Other significant groups include Iranians who came in large numbers since 1979 and many recent arrivals such as West Africans, Somalis and Bosnians.

A Pew Research Center report from 2007 described American Muslims as 65 percent foreign-born, 35 percent native-born, and "mostly middle class and mainstream."

More details and audio on this story at